Friday, November 30, 2007

Aleatoric pleasures

With 22 genres, 756 artists, 693 albums and 5197 tracks to choose from, my iPod shuffled up a nice and surprising 24 minute playlist this week:

- A Chud Covention: "Silent Sorrow" (Sorrow 12", 1987);
- Sunn 0))) & Boris: "Akuma No Kuma" (Altar, 2006);
- Goblin: "Markos (Alternate Version)" (Suspiria OST, 1977).

I love all three tracks individually: the echoing and droning and churning electronic voice phenomena of Skinny Puppy and Á;GRUMH collaboration "A Chud Convention"; the heavy yet surprisingly un-macho combination of vocodered voice, Sunn 0))) drone, start/stop drum rhythms and Beatle-esque (!) copper instruments of "Akuma No Kuma"; and the nervous energy of the proggy-yet-minimalist percussion piece "Markos".

But together the playlist provides the pleasures of an aleatory montage, a pleasure that was technologically impossible only a few years ago.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clifford Geertz - The Religion Of Java (pt. 2)

In Clifford Geertz's classic 1960 ethnography "The Religion Of Java" there is a fascinating chapter on malefic magical rites. In these rites the sorceror - the dukun - performs a blackened version of the communal ritual feast, the slametan. Below is an extensive quote from the chapter, which I'm sure you will enjoy.

"There are several different types of sorcery, all of which bear a family resemblance to the next (...). The general term for sorcery is sikir or sihir, and the three most virulent varieties are tenung, djènggès and santèt.

The symptoms of tenung sorcery are such as vomiting blood, violent sickness in the stomach, or a raging fever, without any traceable cause. The dukun's performance (...) consists of a kind of Black-Mass mock slametan. The dukun sits chanting spells in the center of a half circle of sadjèns - food offerings for evil spirits - pleading for the destruction of his victim. The sadjèns consist of unbroken pieces of incense and opium mostly, although various other things of which sétans are especially fond, such as mirrors, may be added. If one intends to kill the victim rather than merely sicken him, one must break the incense into small bits and wrap it in a white muslin tied in three places as though it were a corpse, and one can chant a little tahil (the chanting one does at funerals) if he wishes.

In djènggès a similar rite is performed, except that objects such as nails, hair, broken glass, and pieces of iron and needles are added to the sadjèns. The dukun spells his spell and concentrates upon his evil intent and by so doing is able to persuade the spirits to induce the objects into the stomach of the victim, who will hear a sudden explosion all around him and then fall dreadfully sick. Sometimes a long piece of wire may be employed which is induced into the victim's arm or leg, thereby paralyzing him (...).

The term santèt is also sometimes used for inducing foreign objects into the stomach of the victim, but, strictly speaking, it refers to the kind of sorcery in which the dukun must actually approach the victim and rub pepper grains (or something of the sort) against him while repeating a spell soundlessly in his mind. The victim than contracts incurable diarrhoea".

The malefic dukun is the subject of several horror films from the region, such as the 2007 Malaysian film "Dukun". Below is Dukun's trailer:



Another nice example is the Indonesian 1979 film "Dukun Ilmu Hitam" from which you'll find a clip below. The entire film can be found (broken into 5 minute pieces) on YouTube.



Monday, November 26, 2007

Anti-spiritual exercise


"St. Ignatius of Loyola certainly used the imagination in a magical fashion as preparation for personal prayer" - Gareth Knight "A history of white magic" (1978).


Ignatius De Loyola's fifth exercise is a meditation on Hell. It contains in it, after the Preparatory Prayer and two Preludes, five Points and one Colloquy. Here I omit the Preparatory Prayer, Preludes and Colloquy.

"First Point. The first Point will be to see with the sight of the imagination the great fires, and the souls as in bodies of fire.

Second Point. The second, to hear with the ears wailings, howlings, cries, blasphemies against Christ our Lord and against all His Saints.

Third Point. The third, to smell with the smell smoke, sulphur, dregs and putrid things.

Fourth Point. The fourth, to taste with the taste bitter things, like tears, sadness and the worm of conscience.

Fifth Point. The fifth, to touch with the touch; that is to say, how the fires touch and burn the souls."


In 'The Pleasure of Text', Roland Barthes wrote a text I've quoted a few times before in this blog: "The more decent, well-spoken, innocent and saccharine a story is told, the easier it is to invert it, the easier it is to blacken it, the easier it is to read it against the grain". The same goes for this part of De Loyola's exercises: they are easy to subvert, easy to use for unintended purposes. The fifth exercise can be used to find delight in imagining the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of Hell - that is: for black magical purposes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Three From Luciano Ercoli

Le Foto Proibite Di Una Signora Per Bene (1970)

La Morte Cammina Con I Tacchi Alti (1971)

La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate (1974)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Silvester Anfang - Kosmies Slachtafval

The notorious Malleus Maleficarum was a something of a handbook for witch hunters, written by inquisitors Sprenger and Institoris. The book, which you can find in it's entirety here, consists of three parts: the first examines theological issues raised by the existence of witchcraft, the second examines the the erotic and magical practices of witches as well as the possession of witches by Devils, and the third and final part describes the proper practical and legal methods for the detection and repression of witchcraft. Though the style of the book is academic (combining legal and theological discourse) the content speaks of an macabre obsession with female eroticism. Page upon page details the copulation of witches with incubi and succubi, copulation which takes place in a rural background: fields, forest, villages. The book is the product of , misogynous urbanoid mass hysteria, of the fear of city-dwellers of the country-dwelling female ‘other’.

Belgian band Silvester Anfang's album "Kosmies Slachtafval" proudly manifests the most terrible fears of these witch hunters. Just take a look at the art work: a black-haired, barely dressed, sickly-looking girl licking a human skull, the Flemish flag in the background - a proud-looking goat with large curled horns in a hilly rural area - a conservatively-dressed young women gazing lovingly on a baby goat - a drawing of a witches' sabbath, three sorcerous hags huddled around a boiling kettle and a fourth riding a goat through the skies ... And the song titles can only confirm the inquisitor's fears: "Mijn vader was een wolf en mijn moeder was een hoer" ("My father was a wolf and my mother was a whore") and "Konfituur voor de satansjeugd" ("Marmelade for the Satanic youth").

Silvester Anfang's "Kosmies Slachtafval" is yet another excellent release from the dependable Aurora Borealis.

The name of the band, "Silvester Anfang", is related to one of the more unlikely episodes in Black Metal history. "Silvester Anfang" is the title of the percussion intro on Mayhem's 1987 mini-album "Deathcrush". The intro is played - of all people - by Tangerine Dream and Kluster member Conrad Schnitzler. It was recorded at the request of Mayhem's front man Øystein Aarseth (perhaps better known under his nom de plume Euronymous). Aarseth was a fan of German electronic music; but Schnitzler had no idea what kind of music Euronymous made. Here is Conrad Schnitzler's account of this strange intersection of very different music styles (link). Mayhem still use the clattering percussion track to open their concerts (link).

The name of the band can be regarded as emblematic for the band's artistic program: a witch's broth of blackened Krautrock with bleak and unnerving ambient synthesizer. But there's even more to Silvester Anfang than that: the music comes across as a Black Metal take on free-form drone-folkies Pelt, as if Pelt had been raised on a steady diet of Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal and Gorgoroth instead of on John Fahey and Americana. It comes as no surprise that Silvester Anfang and Pelt mainman Jack Rose have put out a split 7" on Aim records. "Kosmies Slachtafval" ("Cosmic Offal") is dark and droning, with fingerpicked guitar work and moody, murky drones, the crepescular synths taking the role played by ragas in Pelt's music. Silvester Anfang call their own music "Funeral Folk" - an amalgam of "Funeral Doom" and "Free Folk"?

All in all, I highly recommend "Kosmies Slachtafval". Here are two YouTube videos of Silvester Anfang at play.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Robert Frost - Design

An anonymous commentator to my posts on Striborg's album "Ghostwoodlands" (here and here) pointed me towards Robert Frost's poem "Design". I've reproduced it below.


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Three From Belgium (pt. 4)

A cold and uncaring television producer, his psychologically disturbed and pregnant wife and their autistic son have moved to a small village in the Belgian rural Ardennes region, in the hope that the peace and quiet of rural life will have a beneficent effect on the boy's autism. But there is little peace to be had: the degenerate and superstitious villagers have no sense of privacy and intrude continually upon the family life, the fundamentalist catholic priest berates the couple for their lack of faith, toads and other unclean animals worm their way into the household, and one night their pet baby goat is beheaded, it's head nailed to the wooden door of their farmstead! The wife's dreams become stranger and stranger as slowly the mythical, shamanic powers of the Ardennes landscape are revealed...

Belgian comic artist and Ardennes native Didier Comes' classic 1983 graphic novel "La Belette" ("The Weasel") is a haunting tale in which city dwellers must confront and overcome their urbanoid fear of country people and enter a supernatural world of witchcraft and wiccan deities. Influenced by Belgian magical-realist novelists such as Michel De Ghelderode en Jean Ray (the author of Malpertuis), and narrated with a cinematic sense of beauty, the story Didier Comes tells is still gripping 24 (!) years after it was first published. Visually, the graphic novel is a treat: it is drawn in an magnificent chiaroscuro black and white that I utterly love. Didier Comes' oeuvre comes with the highest recommendations.

"La Belette" points towards aspects of urbanoia, the city-dweller’s fear of the country-dwelling ‘other’, that Carol Clover missed out in her classic study of horror film, 'Man, women and chain saws'. The study focuses on American slasher flicks of the 1980s, and that focus has consequences for her analysis of urbanoia: aspects of that fear that are irrelevant to the concerns of that particular genre are overlooked. I'm referring to themes of superstition, witchcraft, sorcery and mythology, themes that are apparently more 'at home' in Old World than in American urbanoia.

Like Belgian Black Metal band Lugubrum, Didier Comes appropriates the fears of urbanoia, harnessing the 'mystery' and 'wildness' projected onto rural areas by urban culture. Where Lugubrum uses the power of the scatological (Clover: "They do not observe the civilized rules of hygiene or personal habit..."), Didier Comes avails himself of the mystical powers which suburban wiccan witches and their urban academic predecessors have ascribed to country dwellers. To the magic of the Ardennes, Comes fuses another magic, the magic of primitivism.

The results are breath-taking.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Three From Belgium (pt. 3)

Belgian Black Metal band "Lugubrum" plays on urbanoia, the city-dweller’s fear of the country-dwelling ‘other’ as described by Carol Clover in her classic study of horror film, 'Man, women and chain saws'.

Keeping their tongue firmly planted in their cheeks, the band purposefully dons the carnival costume of corpse-painted yokels.

The photographs on their website present them as bad-mannered and unhygienic (they're obsessed with excrement; their video for 'De Ware Hond' opens with a dog licking his anus; one of their cd's is called "Bruyne Troon" ("Brown Throne") - a scatalogical title if ever there was one; the lead singer has a long and unkempt beard; and there is something filthy about their fetish for carrots too). They are portrayed lying drunkenly about the home farm, and as stalking through the fields carrying sharp farming implements such as scythes and pitchforks - waiting for a 'final girl' to fall into their unwashed hands, perhaps.

In fact, Lugubrum look like what the Calvaire's peasant villagers would look like if they were younger and skinnier and didn't play the piano but Black Metal.



Lugubrum started out as a rather typical Darkthrone cult in the mid-1990s, playing a raw sounding, extremely lo-fi Black Metal in the Under A Funeral Moon-era style. However, through the years they evolved their own unique style by adding unusual instruments such as banjo (no instrument signifies 'country bumpkin' better than a banjo!), the saxophone (invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax), the melodica and even tablas.

I saw them play live on June 28th 2005, opening for Sunn 0))) at Amsterdam's Paradiso venue: chaotic and dense riffing added with utterly insane and cacaphonous saxophone playing yielded a sum I didn't really appreciate at the time, as I wasn't yet fully initiated into the sordid delights of Black Metal. Nonetheless, the impression they made lasts to this very day.

Since that concert, their sense of composition has grown considerably: the most recent album, "De Ware Hond", presents an unusual cross-breed of mid-tempo Black Metal, Post Rock, Prog, and Jazz Fusion. The album is rich in ideas: if this is 'Boersk Black Metal' ("Farmers' Black Metal') it is not an industrialized Agribusiness Black Metal but rather an artisanal Slow Food Black Metal. Rabelais rather than Raskolnikov, Bakhtin before Bataille and Breughel before Bosch, the album is well worth investigating!

To finish this post, here is a short clip of Lugubrum playing live in march 2007 at the K-RAA-K 3 festival.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Three From Belgium (pt. 2)

Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz 2004 debut film "Calvaire" is a horror film which I can highly recommend.

Set in the rural region of the Belgian Ardennes, a region of extensive forests and rolling hill country, the film explores the class-based fear city people have of the rural poor, a fear which animated horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Mother's Day and Motel Hell.

In the film, Laurent Lucas plays Marc Stevens, a showman who performs his inauthentic show in homes for the elderly, causing the hearts of nurses (Brigitte Lahaie!) and grannies alike to beat faster. Driving through the Ardennes, he loses his way and his car breaks down, deep in the woods. He finds shelter at an isolated Auberge run by the widower Bartel (Jackie Berroyer). Bartel, once something of an performer himself, is lonely and still grieving over the loss of his wife, and is overjoyed to give some hospitality to a fellow artist. Over-joyed ... and his joy derails completely when Marc Stevens tries to continue his journey to his next venue. And Stevens hasn't even met the equally friendly villagers!

In "Calvaire" the "urbanoid" fear is explored from several distinct angles: from the perspective of a macabre comedy, from the viewpoint of a self-aware but otherwise straight-up horror film, and from that of an extremely violent European art-house film in the style of Gaspard Noé. In a sense, it is the filmic equivalent of a Geertzian "thick description" of the urbanoid fear in horror film: by exploring the urbanoid fear in the context of several different film genres encapsulated in one film, the viewer is enabled to experience different dimensions of "urbanoia" as a socio-cultural phenomenon.

Skirting but never crossing the line between an intelligent, self-referential film and a film that is too smart for it's own good, Calvaire is a powerful experience, with excellent camera-work, beautiful color schemes, strong performances and a warped, absurd sense of humor.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Three From Belgium (pt. 1)

"People from the city are people like us. People from the country (...) are people not like us. (...) In horror, country dwellers are disproportionally represented by adult males with no ascertainable family attachments (...). These men do no discernible work and are commonly shown lying about the home farm in the middle of a workday - usually single, sometimes in groups. (...) The ubiquity of degenerate specimens (...) is the material expression of family wrongness (inbreeding being one obvious form of wrongness). More to the point, country people live beyond the reaches of social law. They do not observe the civilized rules of hygiene or personal habit. If city men are either clean-shaven or wear stylish beards or moustaches, country men sport stubble. Likewise teeth; the country is a world beyond dentistry. The typical country rapist is a toothless or rotten-toothed single man with a four-day growth. (...) As with hygiene, so with manners. Country people snort when they breathe, snore when they sleep, talk with mouths full, drool when they eat. (...) What is threatening about these little incivilities is the larger incivility of which they are the surface symptom. In horror, the man who does not take care of his teeth is obviously a man who can, and by the end of the movie will, plunder, rape, murder, beat his wife and children, commit incest and/or eat human flesh (not to speak of dog- and horse-meat, lizards, and insects), and so on and on."

- Carol J. Clover, "Men, Women And Chainsaws. Gender In The Modern Horror Film".

In her classic analysis of horror films, Clover called this negative web of signification of rural people by city dwellers "urbanoia".

In a short series of posts titled 'Three From Belgium', I'll examine a film and two bands from Belgium which play on the urbanoia Clover describes.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving red neon sign says – but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt.” Walter Benjamin, One Way Street, 1928.

For those who (like me) have no taste for militaristic totalitarianism, the fascination for fascist aesthetics so prevalent in Neofolk can perhaps relate to fascism as the fiery pool relates to what the moving red neon sign says - though Benjamin's thought couldn't be more out of place than in that particular context.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mexican Horror Documentary

A nice documentary on Mexican horror films...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Clifford Geertz - The Religion Of Java

Saturday, I started reading Clifford Geertz's classic 1960 ethnography "The Religion Of Java". The book describes the religious life of the three main social classes of an east central Javanese town: farmers, tradesmen and aristocrats. The book starts with the religious life of the farmers and contains a fascinating chapter about the farmers' spirit beliefs: memedis (frightening spirits), lelembuts (possessing spirits), tujuls (familiar spirits), demits (place spirits) and danjangs (guardian spirits). These spirits represent disorder, the uncivilized, the nonhuman.

Some of these spirits "... show signs as having been derived from European sources: the djrangkong, who is a man 'with his flesh off,' i.e. a skeleton; or the wedon, a spiritual being covered with a white sheet like our ghosts. The memedi who kept adding salt to an informant's food for three months, the disembodied pair of hands at which the same man threw a plate of hot peppers, and the ghost whose shadow remained on the wall even after the light had been turned off may also owe something to our cultural tradition". Ever since reading Michael Taussig's "Mimesis And Alterity" such syncretic ghosts have held a special fascination for me. These deterritorialized spirits are after-images not only of the living humans they once were, but they are also after-images of European colonists: they are excessively mimetic.

The chapter contains folk tales about these spirits, one of which I'll reproduce here for your enjoyment. The story concerns tujuls, spirits which reside in the Hindu ruins on Java and require a devil's pact to do one's bidding, an oath that the sorcerer will deliver a magically killed human sacrifice for the spirit each year. Rich misers are often suspected of having tujuls.

"One of the most famous tujul owners in the Modjokuto area is an old hadji [someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, Valter] who lives in a village a few miles to the east of town. The richest man out that way, he is also the most miserly. He acquired his tujuls through the usual pact - promising to deliver four dead people to the spirits each year. He seeks his victims everywhere - he even looked for them in Mecca. The odd thing is that, even though he had been doing this for years, it was only discovered in 1951 by another man - something of a dealer in the occult himself - who developed countermagic against the hadji. He gathered together thirty-three students an taught them special magical techniques for defeating tujuls. One Friday night the students attacked the tujuls of the hadji, but the latter called in reinforcements from among the spirits at the various ruins. The attacking students wore black spectacles in order to see the spirits and used flashlights as weapons, for where there is light there can be no spirits of any kind. The tujuls threw a tjakra (a magical ring-shaped weapon, used by Krishna in the Mahabharata) at the students but did not kill them, and, though the struggle was hard, the four victims were not taken. Now, it is said, every Friday night the struggle continues. People who see the students fighting think that they are mad because they strike the empty air. The first battle took place in the hadji's front yard, but now the war seems to move about from place to place."

A fascinating folk tale - and from a Bataillan point of view it is interesting that misers (i.e. persons who are opposed to expenditure and gift-giving) are the persons who own the tujuls. Are the tujuls (who represent disorder, the uncivilized, the nonhuman) the monstrous externalizations of the expenditure they rule out? Or are tujuls to be seen (á la Taussig) as a critique of capitalism by Javanese farmers in terms of their own cultural idiom?

I see the sacrificial victims as proxies of the sorcerer himself. In Maussian terms, sacrifice is a gift of the self to the Gods which obliges them to reciprocate with supernatural blessings. But instead of giving himself the sorcerer cheats the gift exchange cycle by giving the life of others instead of his own. But in the long run, he cannot escape giving himself: he must reciprocate the gifts of the tujuls with his own life. And the fact that he has deferred giving himself by giving the life of others instead, has a supernatural effect on his own death: Tujul owners die an exceedingly slow and painful death.

I'll finish this post with some clips from two Indonesian horror films which feature spirits such as those described by Geertz.

Leák - 1981

Pengabdi Setan - 1982

Post scriptum

Here is "The Religion of Java" at Google Books (link).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hototogisu - "Prayer Rug Exorcism"

"The vision the eye records is always impoverished and uncertain. Imagination fills it out with the treasures of memory and knowledge, with all that is put at its disposal by experience, culture, and history, not to mention what the imagination itself may invent or dream. So the imagination is never at a loss when it comes to making something rich and compelling out of a subject that might almost seem an absence of all life and significance." - Roger Caillois, The Writing of Stones, 1966

Hototogisu's album "Prayer Rug Exorcism" presents that band's Free guitar noise at it's most brutal and relentless. The four parts that comprise the album were recorded live in 2005 at four different venues: The Black Chapel in Leeds; CCA in Glasgow; Holy Trinity Church in Leeds, and Brudenell Social Club in Leeds in 2005. That the tracks were recorded live had in effect on the production quality: "Prayer Rug Exorcism" is as lo-fi as a Black Metal album.

However brutal the noise may be, it is also quite abstract, dispensing with recognizable musical structures, dispensing with conventional meaning. In a sense, the album's noise is as inaccessible as a stone, as impenetrable to the mind as a rock. "Stones have no vocabulary", wrote Roger Caillois in his brilliant 1966 book "The Writing of Stones": a book which consists of lyrical texts about the stones Caillois had been collecting since he first put his hands on a labradorite in 1952. In exceedingly beautiful passages, Caillois describes the colors, lines, surfaces, textures, shapes and forms of agates, onyx, jasper and other stones: solidified geological violence, "...more destructive and brutal than the weak force of humans". Of course, Hototogisu's noise is fast-rushing, frenetic even, far from solidified. But if one could freeze-frame Hototogisu's fast-rushing noise, the result might well be the audio equivalent of the black minerals Caillois describes.

The album's title is a rich metaphor, and indeed the music is as sinister as a fundamentalist Islamic take on the 1973 horror film The Exorcist: "The movie starts with an elderly Pakistani imam who studies early-Islamic writings in the Iraqi city of Mosul. After talking to a local, higher-ranking cleric, he then travels to a spot where a strange statue of a pre-Islamic deity stands. He sees an ominous-looking American soldier nearby, and two dogs fighting. Meanwhile a young imam at a fundamentalist madrassa, begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness." The title led me to explore disquieting YouTube video's of djinnis being exorcised by imams (here and here and here), and mindbending examples of Pakistani ("Lollywood") horrorfilm (here and here).

It also led me to ponder at length the meaning of the word 'exorcism' in the title. 'Exorcism' at first seemed an inappropriate title for this sinister album. Aren't exorcisms entirely on the right-handed side of religion, on the side of the law and taboo, on the side of punishment? Nonetheless, Bataille wrote that laws are only created in order to transgress them - if so, are exorcisms only staged to perform an ecstatic possession by demons? Or does the title refer to a cleansing of the type Coil have talked about in their 2001 interview with Dutch VPRO Radio - noise music which is so intense that it cleanses the listener of the banalities of everyday existence?

The music itself as well as the title pointed me to Cammell and Roeg's 1970 film Performance, in which Mick Jagger plays Turner, a decadent hippie pop star who holds court in a crumbling London mansion rich in Islamic rugs. In a crucial scene in this hallucinatory film, a photograph of Jorge Luis Borges flashes in a shattered looking glass as the camera takes us on a tracking shot which follows a bullet penetrating Turner's skull. The psychedelic violence, rich in literary connotations, of that cinematographic moment corresponds exactly to 'Prayer Rug Exorcism'.

Browsing through "The Writing of Stones", I was reminded how Caillois employed a Surrealized structuralism - or better: a structuralized Surrealism - as a method to explore correspondences between stones on the one hand and mythology and metaphysics on the other. And this led me back to the first mythological association that the album called forth: Islamic exorcism. I was caught up in an intellectual feedback loop, and I started to hear a squealing, screeching, ringing noise of feedback in my mind's ear ... brutal and relentless.